Articles in Category: Ferrous Metals

Price stories continue to dominate our look back at the most-read posts of 2016. Katie Benchina Olsen’s missive on why North American Stainless should hike prices was first published in late January. Stainless prices have taken off with the rest of the industrial metals since but this look back shows just how precarious the situation was for producers, who were afraid of scaring off customers with higher prices, back then. — Jeff Yoders, editor

North American Stainless (NAS), the US flat-rolled stainless market leader and the lowest cost producer, has a decision to make.

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Will NAS implement another base price increase effective in March or April? Last month, NAS, never known to be a follower, announced a base price increase which was half that of its competitors Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (ATI), AK Steel and Outokumpu Coil Americas. This meant that the only increase buyers would be paying was the less aggressive 2-discount point adjustment (approximately $0.04 per lb. increase on 304 base gauge).

Will NAS increase base prices in March or April? Source: Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

Will NAS increase base prices in March or April? Source: Adobe Stock/Jovanning.

Stainless base prices may have gone up since January 1, but buyers should still be paying a lower net price for standard 304 2B this month than they did in December. The increase on base gauge 304 was offset by the over $0.05 per lb. decline in the 304 alloy surcharge. 304 Base gauge net prices should decline in February since NAS’ February 304 alloy surcharge will be $0.3321 per lb., which is $0.0031 per lb. less than the January surcharge.

North American Stainless’ Market Position

NAS is in the best position to endure depressed stainless prices longer than any of its North American competitors, but now they are losing money, too. Acerinox, NAS’ parent company from Spain, posted a loss of over €8 million in Q3 2015, after being in the black the previous three quarters. Acerinox’s 2015 results will not be announced until February 29, but I would expect the results to be worse as alloy surcharges continued to decline through the end of 2015.

Price Hike?

I believe NAS will announce another base price increase once its March production is filled, which should be in the next week. The base prices in Q4 2015 were unsustainably low as a result of Outokumpu Coil Americas’ push to fill its Calvert mill with lower prices than NAS.

As long as mill lead times remain in check, service centers will support the domestic mills so that they can keep inventory as lean as possible while still being able to provide for the manufacturer’s requirements. My experience has been that when alloy surcharges are still declining, price increases are easier for the market to accept. Another base price increase is not only feasible for March or April, it is necessary to realign base prices to manageable levels for producer, service center and manufacturers. NAS needs to lead the next price increase and act like the market leader.

In this most-read post of 2016, we look back at the steel scrap market on May 3, 2016. Steel-Insight‘s James May argued that, while North American scrap prices were up, they couldn’t stay up long.

The steel scrap market (and raw steels overall) would not fully recover until Fall. — Jeff Yoders, editor

U.S. shredded scrap prices started 2015 at $350 per long ton delivered to Midwest steel mills.

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Barring a very brief rally in June, the price fell every month over the year and dropped to $170/long ton in December. Indeed, if we look at the chart, U.S. ferrous scrap prices have been in a downtrend since late 2013.

U.S. Shredded Scrap Prices ($/long ton delivered US Midwest Mill)

steel_insight_scrap_300_050116

Source: Steel-Insight.

When prices fall every month, scrap yards and steel mills reduce their purchases to the bare minimum as they expect to be able to procure material at a lower price the very next month. Read more

As we continue to look back at our highest-rated posts of 2016, it’s no surprise that another price predictions article was among the most-read. Contributor James May of Steel-Insight gave us his price outlook for the second half of 2016 and, yes, 2017. Enjoy this best of metalminer post with an eye toward next year. — Jeff Yoders, editor.

U.S. flat-rolled steel prices appear to abhor a vacuum — they seem to either go up or down.

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JamesMayheadshot_150

James May

Moves this month, therefore, have to be perceived as efforts to hold pricing, even though they are pitched as price increases. For now, the moves appear to have worked; hot-rolled coil is steady at $620 a short ton out of minimills and $640/st from integrated mills with cold-rolled coil at $820-840/st.

Amid lower scrap prices, the minimills certainly have room to negotiate. Meanwhile, buying tends to slow over the summer. Import deals are also firming up given the spread. As such, it is our view that the bias is to the downside, but discounting — at least initially — will be limited. Hot-rolled coil lead times remain at around six weeks, although some minimills are closer to four to five weeks. Cold-rolled coil and hot-dipped galvanized remain in the eight to 10 week range — down from their peak, but not long enough to allow distributors much leeway in negotiation. Moreover, with some mills having downtime in August, there is no incentive to cut prices to fill schedules.

US Hot-Rolled Coil Prices ($/metric ton ex-works Midwest) Margins Widen

Steel_Insight_Coil_prices_550_071116

Source: Steel-Insight

Falling scrap prices and high steel prices are leading to rising spreads for minimills, a further reason to maximize output. Slab re-rollers are still seeing their spreads widening as well. At around $350/mt free-on-board Black Sea, the spread to U.S. domestic steel is around $300/mt over landed slab, an enormously profitable spread. It is, perhaps, no wonder that provisional semi imports in May were over 700,000 mt. We would expect them to move higher as buyers take advantage of the arbitrage. However, we caution that this could be another contributory reason for U.S. prices to drop later in the year as rising supply of coil hits the market. Read more

“Trump puts pressure on Lockheed Martin over cost of F-35” says the Financial Times.

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Well, we don’t have a problem with that. These defense contracts are notorious for overrunning budgets and, although to be fair to the contractors, the overruns are as often due to the buyer changing specifications as they are to the manufacturer mismanaging the project. At least that’s the case here in the U.K., and I don’t doubt it’s the same in the U.S.

Poor Lockheed Martin. The president-elect doesn’t love its F-35 Lightning II. I guess no one appreciates air superiority anymore. Even five generations in. Source: Adobe Stock/Spacekris.

But — and this is the big but — whoever is to blame, the fact is it is you and me, the taxpayer, that picks up the tab for these overruns and we aren’t talking a few dollars. It’s billions. Billions that could be spent on other defense equipment or roads, schools, research and development, etc. So, if the new president-to-be is intent on reducing this waste, then good for him. The issue is how you achieve that. Read more

As we continue to republish our highest-rated posts of the year during the holidays, we look back at the February announcement that Allegheny Technologies, Inc., exited the commodity stainless steel business.

Knowing what we now know, and considering that stainless prices have recovered and entered a bull market, you do have to wonder if ATI made the right call. Our Katie Benchina Olsen will continue to cover the latest developments for both ATI and the stainless market in the new year. — Jeff Yoders, editor

For the foreseeable future, Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (ATI) is out of the flat-rolled stainless commodity business as well as the grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) market.

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ATI will be focusing on global markets with high barriers to entry. As we reported last month, ATI is reducing its exposure in commodity products by idling its Midland, Pa., plant, a commodity stainless facility, and its Bagdad GOES production facility in Gilpin Township, Pa.

ATI's Brackenridge facility is the future and commodity stainless is its past. Source: ATI

ATI’s Brackenridge facility is the future and commodity stainless is its past. Source: ATI

Earlier this week, ATI reported in its earnings call a net loss of $378 million for 2015 as compared to a net loss of $2.6 million in 2014. ATI’s flat-rolled products business segment is to blame for the staggering losses. Operating losses for flat-rolled products were $242 million for 2015. For this reason, Rich Harshman — ATI’s chairman, president, and CEO — stated that ATI is taking “rightsizing actions” to return the segment to profitability as quickly as possible and “execute our strategy for sustainable long-term profitable growth.”

Read more

As we continue to republish our top posts of 2016, we look back to April when cold-rolled coil prices hit a one-year high, an event that turned out to be a harbinger of higher steel prices later in the year.

We’ll continue to keep you informed of all movements in the steel markets in 2017. — Jeff Yoders, editor

Steel is being a different animal this year. While metals such as aluminum, copper and nickel are trading barely above multiyear lows, we are witnessing strong price momentum in domestic steel prices.

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Cold-rolled coil is a good example. Prices last week climbed above $600 per standard ton, the metal’s highest price level since April 2015.

US CRC hits 1-year high. Source: MetalMiner index

U.S. Cold-rolled coal hits one-year high. Source: MetalMiner index.

Why, in an Oversupplied Market, Did Steel Prices Get a Boost?

The duties imposed on steel products caused steel imports to taper down in a big way over the last three of months and U.S. steel mills now have the power to raise their base selling prices. U.S. aluminum markets didn’t enjoy this kind of protection. However, even if they did, which they might, aluminum prices wouldn’t get the same boost.

The reason is that aluminum (like the rest of base metals) is more global in nature than steel. U.S. steel prices can be much higher than in the rest of the world because prices are not decided on exchange-based trading unlike aluminum which is linked to London Metal Exchange reference prices. So, even if duties were imposed on aluminum products, aluminum producers couldn’t arbitrarily hike their selling prices.

Is This Rally Backed Up by Fundamentals?

In the short-to-medium term it is, whereas long-term it really isn’t since steel demand in China keeps contracting. The recent positive sentiment might help U.S. steel mills increase their spot offers even further, but we could see a revision later this year. Although there seems to be short-term scarcity of steel in U.S. markets, there is still plenty of steel overhanging in global markets. We’ll have to wait to see how much further mills can raise steel prices in Q2 before buyers turn to international suppliers for cheaper prices.

Chinese Exports Rise Sharply in March

Another factor driving global steel prices this year has been expectations of a decline in Chinese steel exports as earlier this year China committed to curtail its excess steel capacity. However, the latest data doesn’t seem to suggest that. In March, Chinese steel exports surged 30% compared to the same period last year. In Q1, Chinese steel exports are up 8% compared to the same quarter last year. That seems to suggest that rising steel prices have only ensured that Chinese steel mills produce more of the metal.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

Market dynamics are quite different for steel markets than to the rest of base metals. U.S. mills now have the power to increase their spot prices. Buyers should have, by now, locked in prices for the next one or two quarters.

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Longer-term, there are still plenty of events that could change market sentiment later this year, limiting domestic mills’ ability to raise prices. We’ll have to keep monitoring markets to watch for more clues.

Over the holidays, we are republishing and revisiting some of our most well-read posts of 2016. While this one technically doesn’t fall into the 2016 (it was initially published December 14, 2015) but we are still looking back at it anyway since it deals with predictions about metal prices for the year we’re about to leave behind. It also gathered the second-most traffic of any post we published in 2016 despite predating the year by a few weeks.

At the time, my colleague Raul de Frutos wrote “Currently, some key Chinese indicators we are tracking are giving us no reason to expect higher metal prices in 2016.”

Yet, we have seen higher metal prices in 2016 and we are now in a full metals bull market. The reason we are is because of everything Raul cited in his post. He was 100% right that “the longer it takes China to clean up its mess, the later metal prices will hit bottom.”

China cleaned up its mess, hit bottom early in 2016 and turned global commodities demand around remarkably fast, all things considered. This reminds us that markets can make a turn around quickly. The future is unpredictable and we need to take the market day by day. Just four months after this post, we went from bearish to completely bullish on industrial metals.  Enjoy the second of our Best of MetalMiner in 2016 series. -Jeff Yoders

As you well know, the main cause of the commodities meltdown has been China’s slowdown. Since China makes up half of the world’s demand for commodities, the economic slowdown means lower demand which has led to a situation where a glut of materials can’t find a home.

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The role that China plays in commodity prices is so big that the future of metal prices is totally dependent on China. The longer it takes China to clean up its mess, the later metal prices will hit bottom. Currently, some key Chinese indicators we are tracking are giving us no reason to expect higher metal prices in 2016.

Trade Surplus

Imports to China dropped 8.7% to $143.14 billion in November from a year earlier, extending a slump in imports to a record 13 months, suggesting that government stimulus measures are failing to boost growth.

China Imports (millions $) Source: trading economics.com

China Imports (millions $) Source: TradingEconomics.com from Customs Administration Data.

Meanwhile, Chinese exports declined 6.8% to $197.24 billion in November from a year earlier, marking the fifth straight falling month. The fact that China is struggling to increase its exports demonstrates that global demand is weak and that China will have to find a more painful solution to balance its surplus. The trade surplus and the inability to find a home for the excess of materials flow will continue to keep a lid on China’s growth, depressing commodity prices.

China Exports (millions $). Source: tradingeconomics.com

China Exports (millions of dollars). Source: TradingEconomics.com

 Yuan Falls To Four-Year Low Against The Dollar

Chinese authorities want to see a smooth depreciation of the yuan/renminbi as China faces external pressure not to devalue its currency too quickly. A sharp depreciation would probably hurt the country’s credibility at the same time China wants to attract more foreign capital. In addition, it would raise criticisms that China is keeping its currency artificially low to encourage more exports.

Yuan versus dollar. Source: yahoo finance

Yuan versus dollar. Source: Yahoo Finance.

Recently, China’s central bank cut its reference rate to the lowest level since 2011. The yuan fell against the dollar to the lowest level since 2011. Although China has said that it has not allowed the yuan to slide to boost the economy or increase exports, it seems that the market is taking these developments as desperate actions from China’s government to help the economy, raising concerns among investors that the country’s slowdown might worsen.

China’s Equity Markets’ Slump Continues

We believe that equity markets are the best benchmark for the performance of China’s economy, or at least investors’ sentiment about China. We’ve analyzed before the link between China’s stock market and commodity prices. Currently, this link is even more noticeable.

China FXI ishares

China FXI shares continue to fall. Source: @StockCharts.com.

After the huge slump this summer, equity prices mildly recovered, but since October we see that equities are heading south again. The poor performance of Chinese stocks demonstrates that investors are still worried about the future of the country and not lured by its government actions.

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Contrary to what others are saying, we suspect that the slump in China’s stock market could continue, resulting in more fears and more sell-offs in commodities/metals markets.

In recent weeks the Dalian and Zhengzhou commodity exchanges and the Shanghai Futures Exchange have all toughened trading requirements several times.

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The measures imposed include raising trading margins, hiking transaction fees and imposing trading limits in attempt to tamp down speculative trading. Reuters’ Clyde Russell referred to the situation as China having “thrown the world’s commodity producers and traders a massive party.”

HRC and CRC prices in China continue to rise. Source: MetalMinerIndex

HRC and CRC prices in China rising through November. Source: MetalMinerIndX.

This year saw most analysts surprised by the strength of both China’s coal and iron ore imports, which led to rallies in the prices of both commodities. Chinese imports of iron ore jumped to the third-highest on record in November with 91.98 million metric tons up 13.8% from the previous month, taking the year-to-date gain to 9.2% compared with the same period in 2015, according to Reuters. Read more

While this year’s spectacular rebound in iron ore prices has been a godsend for the world’s biggest miners, it has not gone high enough for smaller, less-efficient producers that still have pits shuttered and equipment idle.

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The price of the steelmaking material has nearly doubled in 2016 to above $80 a metric ton, a boon for miners such as Vale, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto which extract the material at a cost of less than $20 per mt.

ABI Limps Out of 2016

Coming off a modest increase after two consecutive months of contraction, the Architecture Billings Index recorded another small increase in demand for design services. As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine to 12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

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The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the November ABI score was 50.6, essentially unchanged from the mark of 50.8 in the previous month. This score reflects a slight increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).

It seems like a bizarre question when iron ore has been on a bull run this year and coking coal producer Glencore has just agreed first-quarter contract prices with Nippon Steel that are the highest since 2011.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

But Morgan Stanley, in its 2017 Outlook, takes a bullish stance on base metals but forecasts bulk commodities such as iron ore and coking coal will do no more than tread water next year. Trying to call a peak in any market is, at best, a stab in the dark, but coking coal spot prices appeared to be easing just as contract prices set a new near-term record. Read more